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A Mill Town's Downtown: Assessing the Needs of Ware's Main Street

At the heart of every city and town is a downtown and a Main Street that not only serves as an economic engine, but defines the community, reflects its values, and acts as a living barometer of the state of the town. Downtown Economic Development is an essential component of any community's plan for prosperity and growth. A once thriving mill town with a robust manufacturing industry, Ware Massachusetts is a bedroom community that today is made up of many industries, none of which present an obvious symbol or unifying identity for Ware the way manufacturing once did. That reality is especially reflected in Ware's downtown, which is dotted with vacant prime street-front commercial properties, and in which depressed rents create demand for commercial space only among a struggling retail industry, service providers, commercial office space and [for the most part] small breakfast/lunch eateries. Research abounds on the components of robust downtown centers and the myriad of tools and techniques employed by individual municipalities to meet their goals and objectives for econ9mic growth and vitality. However, before Ware can construct such a strategy, it first needs to define what currently exists. This Masters Project assesses the current state-of-the-downtown in Ware, Massachusetts and provides data that can assist them in the construction of a strategy for downtown revitalization and long-term business development. In January of 2013, a downtown boundary was drawn with the guidance of Ware's Town Planner and approval by the Ware Business and Civic Association. Using the guidance, primarily of Peg Barringer's fall 2012 workshop, "Economics of Downtown... Training Guide - Lessons in Retail Attraction & 10 Things You Can Do to Improve the Retail Mix Downtown", a strategy for data collection was developed to complete the first three steps to downtown revitalization, which include: Evaluating the Business Mix, Inventorying Vacancies and Collecting Market Information in order to lay the foundation for the eventual completion of the remaining 7 steps. The strategy included the release of three surveys, a Business Census, a Commercial Properties Survey and a Customer Survey which were in the field for varying degrees of time between February 4, 2013 and Spril 26, 2013 and each had varying degrees of success. The results reflect a weekday downtown that services a very specific demographic of people who regularly access the downtown. Offices disproportionately make up the businesses located there and visitors from 43 (mostly) surrounding towns across the three counties that Ware abuts access the downtown for these social services. The recommendations provided propose the continued data collection of the business and commercial property owners information, the inclusion of the business and commercial property owners in the development of a downtown revitalization plan, the use of several state and local resources at Ware's disposal and need for a comprehensive market analysis of Ware's downtown.
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